HERO soldier Ben Parkinson heralded in a new era for people with limited mobility as he launched Wentworth Woodhouse’s new disabled-friendly rooftop tours.
The former Lance Bombardier, who lost both his legs in the Afghanistan conflict, said he was “honoured” to open the tour — and revealed historic homes had proved a problem for him in the past.
Two newly-installed lifts at the stately home rise through the huge scaffolding shell covering the famous East Front of the mansion to whisk visitors 18-metres to the top.
Ben (35), of Doncaster, said: “Historic houses pose big problems for people with limited mobility.
“I have experienced problems many times at military functions in old buildings.
“I once had to miss an awards presentation by the Duke of Kent because it was upstairs and I was stuck downstairs.”
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) has also pledged to install an escalator inside the stately home and ensure as much of the building as possible is accessible.
Campaigner Ben — the most severely injured UK serviceman to survive the Afghanistan conflict — said he was “really pleased” by the trust’s commitment to solving accessibility problems.
He added: “Some people thought this house could never be saved and had no future, but now it is being repaired and restored — I can relate to that.
“It is a real privilege to open tours that people of all abilities can enjoy.
“I have never accepted that there are things I can’t do and I think everybody should have the opportunity to experience anything an able-bodied person can.”
Sarah McLeod, WWPT chief executive, said: “We are very proud that people of all ages and abilities can head to the roof of our grade-I listed mansion and enjoy our latest tour.
“Who better to officially launch this than local legend Ben, who has never let his disabilities define him and sees any challenge as simply something to overcome.
“We love his spirit and determination.”
The roof, which is the size of six football pitches, can also be accessed by climbing 135 steps.
Another special guest was former teacher Gail Corbett (56), of West Melton, who has multiple sclerosis and relies on a wheelchair.
Gail was one of the first people to sponsor a new slate for the roof by supporting WWPT’s Make Your Mark in History appeal, which closes on August 31.
Also attending were the Master and Mistress Cutler, Nick and Liz Cragg, Mayor of Rotherham Cllr Jenny Andrews, Mayoress Jeanette Mallinder, MP for Wentworth and Dearne John Healey and Giles Proctor, of Historic England.
They posed for pictures at the rooftop’s “selfie station” and tried out its “ding-ding donation station” — sending their pound coins down an 18-metre drainpipe into the gift shop.
WWPT plans to give full access to as many areas of the house as possible.
Sarah added: “Because of the mansion’s age and design, this is one of our greatest challenges. Our state rooms are on the first floor and many ground floor areas involve different floor levels.
“But we are working hard to overcome this and have already earmarked an area inside the house where an escalator can be fitted.”
Hour-long rooftop tours will take place Wednesday to Sunday and tickets start from £6.
For more information visit www.wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk or call 01226 351161.
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